Editor’s note by Melody/MamaC: People always ask me, “How do I know if divorce is the answer?” or “How did you know?” I never know what to say. Everyone is different. And every relationship is different. I just don’t think there is a cookie cutter answer. However, several months ago, I read a brilliant message on the topic from a friend. Instead of giving a hard, fast answer, “To Divorce or Not To Divorce,” she suggests a formula to work through with your partner–to help figure it out for yourselves. I love this because it shifts and adapts to each couple. For that matter, it doesn’t even have to be a married couple. It’s just plain good relationship advice.
I was once married to a man who I loved who simply was never going to really love me, no matter how thin, athletic and beautiful I was, no matter how much money I made, no matter how beautiful I made our home or what a good job I did as mother to our children.
So I tried harder.
I tried to be more perfect so he would be pleased with me. I tried harder to forgive him for his abuse, to love him in spite of his lack of interest in giving me what I needed. I thought if I loved enough, forgave enough, tried hard enough, someday surely he would turn around and look at me and say, “Wow! You are so wonderful. How could I have been so blind?” Instead, he ran off with my brother’s wife.
Trying to determine whether to stay in a troubled relationship can be extremely difficult. Here are some questions that may help you consider what is going on and if there is a chance that staying is right for you:
1. “What do I need for a relationship to work for me? What does my spouse need?”
To create a successful relationship, you have to know what you need. What is on your “I must have this to get what I need out of a relationship” list? You are far more likely to get what you need from a relationship if you have identified these things. For instance, my list looks like this:
- I need someone who loves me with all his heart.
- I need someone who treats me with respect.
- I need someone who is demonstrably affectionate with me.
- I need someone who has deep faith in God and who loves Jesus Christ with all his heart.
- I need someone who will love my children and be kind to them.
- I need someone who handles money responsibly.
- I need someone who enjoys doing fun, outdoorsy things with me.
Ask yourself if it is reasonable that you should get what you need. (It is.) Both of you share your lists with each other. If you’re not sure what your spouse really needs … ask!
2. “Am I getting what I need from this relationship? Is my spouse?”
If you are, great! If you aren’t, consider whether you’ve clearly communicated to your partner what you need. Maybe you mentioned it once a long time ago, but does your spouse really understand what you need for the relationship to work? In a loving way, share with your partner what you need.
3. “Is each of us willing to give the other what they need? ”
If you’ve both clearly communicated what you need, and if your partner says he/she is willing, even wanting to give you what you need from the relationship, go to question 4.
If one (or both) of you is unwilling to give the other what they need, get out. You’re wasting each other’s time.
4. “Is my spouse able to give me what I need?”
Maybe your spouse is willing, but just lacks the ability to give you what you need. For example, if you need a partner who is cuddly and affectionate, but you aren’t getting much affection (besides sex, which is different), maybe your spouse doesn’t really know how to be affectionate. Maybe it feels unnatural, but he/she is willing to try to do better. If so, hang in there.
Perhaps you can reevaluate whether you really need what you think you need. If your spouse is terrible with money, or doesn’t share your faith, or doesn’t demonstrate love for you very often, but you believe he/she really loves you, ask yourself, “Can I live with that? Is there some other way for me to get what I need (without being unfaithful)?”
5. “Is my spouse willing to become able to give me what I need?
If your spouse isn’t currently able to give you what you need, but loves you and is committed to you, your happiness and your relationship, there is still hope. If you are both willing to work together to give each other what you need, stick with it! Life is an adventure where we all get to stretch to develop new abilities.
If you or your spouse aren’t willing to become able to give each other what you need, get out. Clearly you are not important enough to each other to do what is required to make the relationship work. You can’t make someone love you. If your spouse doesn’t already love you, trying harder to be perfect isn’t going to make it happen.
6. “What evidence do I see that my spouse is willing to become able to give me what I need?”
Your spouse may talk a good talk, but is he/she walking the walk? If you are both doing whatever it takes to build a strong relationship that works for both of you, great!
If it’s all talk, and if after repeated short bursts of flash and fizzle you notice that your spouse simply does not have any long-term desire to grow in those areas that are vital to you, (I’m not talking about learning to rock climb, if that’s your favorite thing), then it’s time to leave. Things aren’t going to change. Your partner’s willingness to sporadically go to a couple of counseling sessions, and then continue to blame you for everything, or be abusive do not count as evidence that he/she is willing to become able to give you what you need.
Check in with each other.
Relationships are dynamic. People are always changing. It is important to keep tabs on each other throughout the years. Ask each other:
“Are you getting what you need from me?”
“Are you happy?”
“Do you feel loved and cherished?”
“Do you feel safe and secure?”
“Do you feel like I’m your best friend and I have your back?”
“Do you feel like I would rather spend time with you than do anything else?”
You can have a relationship that works for both of you.
Even though my first marriage failed, I have lived and learned since then. Now I am married to a man who loves me with all his heart, who loves the Lord with all his heart, who is good and kind, is good to my children, is my best friend and true love. (Those were the things on my list.)
I’m not nearly as slender and beautiful as I was when I was married to my first husband, but my true love loves me anyway. Now and then we ask each other, “Are you getting what you need from me?” “What can I do to make your life more wonderful?”
Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/ Ambro (couple in bed)/ photostock (girl holding arm)/ arztsamui (holding hands)/ Witthaya Phonsawat (elderly couple)/ Stuart Miles (sign post)